FILM REVIEW - ANTHROPOID
Running Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: 9th September 2016
Directed by: Sean Ellis
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones, Charlotte Le Bon
Written by: Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin
Cinematography: Sean Ellis
Reinforces Murphy's reputation as one of our most captivating screen actors.
Is it possible to spoil history? Narrative tension and suspense is hard to accomplish when anyone with a broad knowledge of history (or access to Wikipedia) will be familiar with the outcome before a single frame of film has been shot. Historical thrillers can be a tricky proposition, and the true story of Operation Anthropoid has already been tackled by masters of cinema such as Douglas Sirk (Hitler’s Madman) and Fritz Lang (Hangmen Also Die). But for this modern adaption, director and co-writer Sean Ellis has gone for gritty realism over melodrama, with the minimal use of a manipulative, non-diegetic musical score. It’s a wise choice, as the events behind the operation are so astonishing that embellishment simply isn’t necessary.
In the run-up to World War II, the Allies’ policy of appeasement with Germany allowed Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia without firing a single shot. At the end of 1941, the Czech Government-in-exile send two paratroopers back into occupied Czechoslovakia with orders to carry out the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague and architect of the Final Solution. With little chance of success, Josef Gabčik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) encounter much resistance from the Czech, er, resistance, but the pair are determined to carry out their orders, regardless of the consequences.
If the palatable sense of dread and foreboding doesn’t suggest that Kubiš and Gabčik’s operation will not strictly go according to plan, then dropping the actual assassination attempt in at the halfway point certainly will. With more than a nod to The Untouchables (which De Palma, in turn, lifted from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin), this sequence is a marvellously executed masterclass in tension, but subsequent events following the assassination are every bit as compelling. The final act is particularly exhilarating. This extended set piece is a thrilling blitzkrieg of smoke and noise, and one of the finest examples of cinematic action you’re likely to see this year.
A romantic subplot with two female members of the Czech resistance (Anna Geislerová and Charlotte Le Bon) is largely redundant, and feeds into a mawkish, schmaltzy final scene. But it’s hard to find fault with what has come before. Anthropoid reinforces Murphy’s reputation as one of our most captivating screen actors. Murphy has the ability of commanding a scene without uttering a word of dialogue. Sadly, Dornan’s Kubiš is more verbose than the taciturn Gabčik. While both actors are forced to wrestle with the handicap of clunky middle European accents (“It hess bin a vile”), it’s the Co. Down native who comes out worst in the wash. But once you disregard the incongruity of two Irish actors playing Czechoslovakian paratroopers, then Anthropoid is a tense, unsettling triumph.